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HERE’S HOPING LEWIS DOESN’T GET HIS WISH

SHARE HERE’S HOPING LEWIS DOESN’T GET HIS WISH

Should Carl Lewis be allowed to run on the 4x100-meter relay? Right from the start, let's carefully examine both sides of this question:

On the one hand, Lewis a) doesn't deserve it, because b) he finished "butt naked last" in the Olympic trials and c) he said afterward that it was someone else's turn to run the relay and d) refused invitations to attend mandatory relay practices, but then e) he won the Olympic long jump and f) changed his mind, and g) somebody called his Congressman, who h) called the President and i) don't these guys have anything better to do, such as passing legislation that would ban John Tesh and Kerri Strug replays before j) any more viewers throw a shoe through their TV set, and k) where were we? l) oh, yeah, m) Lewis appeared on CNN and told fans to send their calls and letters to the Olympic people to convince them that he should be placed on the relay but insisted n) he wasn't lobbying for anything.On the other hand, a) Lewis wants a 10th gold medal.

So obviously there can be only answer to the question: Of course Lewis will be allowed to run in the relay.

Lewis will probably anchor the U.S. relay team in tonight's semifinals. No official announcement will be made until just before the race, but Lewis has been working out with the team the last couple of days and his teammates have said his inclusion is pretty much a done deal.

Something stinks here. There's some funny business going on. It began when Lewis won the long jump. That tied him with Paavo Nurmi, Mark Spitz and Larissa Latynina for owning the biggest collection of Olympic gold medals (nine). Suddenly, Lewis wanted one more medal, and that meant worming his way into the relay.

The word around the track earlier this week was that one of Lewis' Santa Monica Track Club teammates would be paid to give up his spot on the relay to let Lewis run.

"Well, think what it's worth to Lewis," one coach told a reporter in the hallways underneath Olympic Stadium.

Think of what it would be worth to Lewis' shoe company, NBC, the IOC, the USOC.

It looked fairly suspicious when, a day later, Leroy Burrell, Lewis' club teammate and training partner, announced that he was injured and would not be able to run in the relay.

Just like that, Lewis was back in the relay picture.

Lewis has experience (he has anchored two gold medal relays and several world-record teams) and fitness (as evidenced by his long jump performance). Clearly, he is a sentimental favorite. A CNN poll showed that 65 percent of the public wants Lewis on the relay (only 50 percent before the Olympics began).

Public demand seems to be much of what is behind the Lewis campaign. It is what feeds the commercial interest. But since when did America's selection of its Olympic team become a popularity contest? This isn't college football. Olympic teams are determined in a do-or-die trials competition.

It's cruel, but it's fair. If you don't finish in the top three (or four for relays), you don't go to the Olympics. It doesn't matter if you're a superstar named Carl Lewis or an up-and-coming nobody named Alvin Harrison.

Lewis finished "butt naked last" in the trials, as sprinter Jon Drummond said it. Seven men finished ahead of him. Coach Erv Hunt chose to put the top three finishers (Dennis Mitchell, Drummond and Mike Marsh) and the fifth-place finisher (Burrell) on the team that would run in the Olympic finals.

Jeff Williams, who finished fourth, was the odd man out. Now he probably won't even fill in for Burrell. Aside from some of his relay teammates, who have openly resented Lewis' intrusions, everyone seems to want Lewis to win his 10th gold medal; Williams has yet to win one medal.

It would be courageous if U.S. coach Erv Hunt continued to stick to his principles and kept Lewis off the team, but public pressure (and whatever else has been going on behind the scenes), plus Burrell's injury, seemed to wear down his resistance as the week wore on.

After taking an early hardline stance against Lewis, Hunt began to waffle. He said he was looking at Lewis and trying to assemble America's best team, but if that's the case, what about Williams, who beat Lewis in the trials.

Or what about Michael Johnson, who is probably the fastest man in the world once he's in full flight, perfect for the running starts in a relay.

This isn't the first time Lewis got a late call for relay duty. No better than sixth in the 1992 Olympic trials, he replaced Mark Witherspoon, his Santa Monica club teammate, in the Olympic relay that won the gold in Barcelona.

Lewis will likely return to the track again for tonight's semifinals.

If he doesn't, you can call your Congressman.